How to Build an Outdoor Cinema at Home: Home Theater Ideas & Tips

Originally Published on July 10, 2019. Last Updated on July 18, 2023.

Thinking of adding a backyard theater? We’ve prepared a detailed guide filled with outdoor home theater ideas, planning tips, design advice, and other helpful information so your friends and family can enjoy their favorite films, TV shows, and sports events under the stars.  

Jump to Section
Step 1: Plan Your Setup
Step 2: Choose a Movie-Watching Medium
Step 3: Pick Your Preferred Movie Screen
Step 4: Select the Best Audio Option
Step 5: Browse Backyard Home Theater Ideas
Step 6: Outfit Your Outdoor Movie Space

Step 1: Plan Your Setup

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Multiple factors come into play when designing your own outdoor theater. Here are some things to keep in mind to help streamline the planning process:

  1. Space: Do you have enough space in your backyard for a home theater? If you’re unsure, measure the area and use the dimensions as a starting point. This will help you get an idea of what equipment will fit.
  2. Utility: If your family uses your outdoor space often, pick equipment you can permanently install. However, if you don’t plan to use the area often, or it’s a multipurpose space, stick to portable technology you can store between flicks. 
  3. Cost: Building an outdoor theater can be pricey, so setting a budget for yourself is a good idea as it manages expectations and prevents overspending.
  4. Installation: Decide if you want to build your own outdoor movie theater or hire professionals to do it for you. The DIY approach is less expensive, but professional installation takes the work off your plate.

Step 2: Choose a Movie-Watching Medium

We’ve compiled a list of possible items you could choose from to bring your favorite films, sports, and television series outdoors.

Backyard Projector

If you opt for a movie projector, choose one that fits your needs. Pick a mountable projector if your family prefers spending time at home, or go for a portable option if your group is always on the go.

Outdoor TV

An alternative to a projector and screen, mounting a television in your backyard living room offers an excellent way to take in a show. Just make sure to pick a product rated for outdoor use.


Whether you watch a show on the laptop itself or connect it to an outdoor television or projector, this is a tried-and-true way to watch movies anywhere.


Technology has advanced so much that families can project movies using cell phones. One way to do this is to install a projection app on your phone and pair it with compatible wireless equipment. Or, if you want to know how to turn your phone into a projector, try this DIY method:

Supplies needed:

  • Shoebox
  • Box cutter
  • Duct tape
  • Magnifying glass
  • Smartphone
  • White sheet


  1. Use the box cutter to cut off one flap on the slim end of the shoebox lid.
  2. On either thin side of the box, trace a circle around the magnifying glass lens and cut it out with the box cutter.
  3. Tape magnifying glass over the hole—careful not to cover the lens.
  4. Get your movie ready on your smartphone, and lock the screen so it can’t flip. 
  5. Fold a piece of duct tape over on itself with the sticky side facing out, and stick it on the inside of the shoebox at the opposite end from the magnifying glass. 
  6. Prop your phone against the duct tape to keep it in place, with its screen positioned upside down and facing the lens.
  7. Drape the sheet over a fence or tape it to your garage door, then place your backyard projector setup on a table in front of it.
  8. Turn off any surrounding lights, press play on your phone, and put the lid on the box.

Step 3: Pick Your Preferred Movie Screen

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There are multiple projector screen options to choose from to complete your backyard cinema. The most expensive choice is a large retractable screen you can install on an overhead beam on your pergola or gazebo. If you want something a bit more affordable, choose an inflatable outdoor movie screen. It has the added benefit of being collapsable, so you can store it when the night ends. 

You can also take the DIY route and make your own homemade projector screen. It’s a budget-friendly option consisting of a white sheet stretched over a frame fashioned from wood, metal, or PVC pipe.

Step 4: Select the Best Audio Option

Base this decision on your yard’s layout and the projector or TV you choose. If you have a smaller space and opt for a projector app on your smartphone, try a wireless speaker. But if you have the room and prefer a fixed projector and retractable projection screen, go all out with an outdoor sound system.

Step 5: Browse Backyard Home Theater Ideas

Here are some creative outdoor home theater ideas to try in your own backyard.

The Sportsfan’s Dream Streaming Space

Stock your kegerator, fire up the grill, and host a backyard tailgate from the comfort of your patio. Invite friends over and stream the Stanley Cup, World Series, or Monday night football in your outdoor theater.

Click for Backyard Tailgate Ideas

Poolside Big Screen

Turn your pool house into a movie theater, or transform a section at one end of your pool into a viewing area. Family members can watch Jaws or The Little Mermaid while floating on the water or relaxing on a chaise lounge. Keep your speakers, projector, and other equipment far from the water, and choose a large screen so viewers can see the action from every vantage point. Everyone will want in on this outdoor movie night, so you’re gonna need a bigger bowl of popcorn. 

Outdoor Movie Party for Foodies

Outdoor home theater ideas like these are all about the eats. Set up a buffet table laden with gourmet movie snacks such as truffle browned butter popcorn, petit fours topped with candied violets, and a s’mores station boasting homemade marshmallows and Callebaut chocolate. Offer wine or spirit pairings that complement the food’s flavors, and leave recipe cards and to-go boxes on the table so guests can take some treats home and recreate them. Finally, fill a plate and take a seat—it’s time to watch Julie & Julia.

Cozy Backyard Movie Theater

If you have limited outdoor space, you can still have a magical movie experience. Use space-saving seating like folding side tables and chairs, and try a portable projector and screen you can store when the movie ends.

Date Night Out Back

If you’re in search of movie night ideas for couples, plan a romantic evening in and enjoy dinner and a show from the comfort of your own backyard. 

  1. Order takeout from your favorite restaurant.
  2. Arrange a bistro set near your outdoor projector setup. 
  3. Cue up your partner’s favorite movie and set the table (include candles and a bottle of wine).
  4. Settle in for some quality time with your sweetheart. 

Backyard Movie Theater and Campsite

For the family who loves camping and movie night, a backyard campout complete with kid-friendly films is a great idea. Have your little ones help you pitch tents, start a campfire, and build a DIY movie screen from a simple white sheet stretched over a PVC pipe or wooden frame.

Click for Bakcyard Camping Ideas

Step 6: Outfit Your Outdoor Movie Space

Complete your home theater design with these outdoor essentials.


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Invest in outdoor seating for your cozy home theater. Here are our suggestions for enhancing your viewing experience:

  • Deep seating sofa or sectional: Either will keep all your loved ones comfortable for the film’s duration. 
  • Fire pit table: A fire pit table gives you extra warmth, light, and a spot to rest drinks (and cook s’mores).
  • Adirondack set: If you have a smaller space, style an Adirondack set for two where you can get comfy with a companion.
  • Chaise lounge set: Enjoy head-to-toe comfort with family while introducing your kids or grandkids to Die Hard, Star Wars, and other binge-worthy film series.


Install two light sources for your outdoor home theater to avoid darkness-induced stumbles and stubbed toes. Use a floodlight as your primary light source and ground lighting along walkways so family can find their way to the bathroom or kitchen during the movie.


What’s a movie night without bowls of buttery popcorn, gummy candies, and salty pretzels? There’s no right or wrong movie snack combo—just make sure there’s enough to go around.


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You need a place to store everything once the credits start rolling. Invest in a console table or outdoor cabinet to keep your projector and screen (if they aren’t affixed to your home), pillows, blankets, and other movie-watching gear safe from the elements.


What do you need to make an outdoor theater?

Here’s a list of all the items you’ll need to make an outdoor theater:

  • Projector and screen or outdoor TV
  • Laptop, DVD player, or other media player
  • Sound system or wireless speakers
  • Electrical source
  • Comfortable seating
  • Blankets and pillows
  • Outdoor lighting
  • Food and drinks

How do you plan a backyard movie night?

Plan a successful backyard movie night by choosing a night with good weather. Clean off your furniture and set up the projector, screen, and speakers. Finally, fill the space with cozy seats, warm blankets, and tables topped with tasty snacks and drinks.

How do you build an outdoor cinema at home?

Follow these steps to build an outdoor cinema at home:

  1. Choose the site where you want to set up the outdoor theater.
  2. Make space for the projector, screen, speaker system, and seating.
  3. Install your equipment (or hire professionals to do it for you).
  4. Move in sofas, chairs, tables, and other outdoor furniture.
  5. Add munchies and drinks to enjoy during the show.
  6. Choose your favorite flick, sit back, and relax.

7 thoughts on “How to Build an Outdoor Cinema at Home: Home Theater Ideas & Tips

  1. I love your idea to install outdoor light sources to help prevent stubbed toes as people walk around in the dark. My sister is thinking of hosting an outdoor movie for the family party as soon as it gets warm. I think it sounds like a really good idea as long as she looks for places to get the movie screen from so she can project the movie.

  2. Thanks for the information though, I think I would like to try these and will let you know about my experience all and to be honest, this is really awesome.

  3. You may want to suggest etiquette for these as well. I had the unfortunate experience this past weekend with my back neighbors booming a war movie, my windows were vibrating, it sounded like the booms you hear on the 4th of July. Really thoughtless, my dog was freaking out and I had to close up everything and turn my volume on the television up to the highest level.

    1. Hi Cynthia!

      Thank you for you great suggestion! Outdoor Home Theaters should most definitely be used in a respectful manner for surrounding neighbors. We would want everyone to have a positive experience.

      Thank you!

  4. Hi Cynthia!
    Wonderful post. I’ve a question in mind, like what should be considered for the outdoor home theater, a projector or TV? Also, is it acceptable to use center channel speakers rather than HiFi speaker systems? Please do let me know. Thanks

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